What started as a project to help provide feedback to diabetic patients who’d lost sensation in their feet became a brand-new footwear concept for healthcare workers.
Monash University and Blundstone Australia put their heads together to design footwear for nurses and healthcare professionals, advancing their safety and comfort while working.
High-tech sensors in the shoes analyse various parts of the foot and send feedback to a smartphone app which allows the wearer to monitor their activities throughout shifts.
Doctor Rowan Page from the Monash Health Design Collab said there’s a need to improve footwear and increase safety for nurses considering the lack of appropriate regulations.
“We identified that healthcare workers had quite a high level of risk,” Page told Nursing Review.
“They are on their feet a lot and are lifting heavy loads – they perform many similar activities you might see in high-risk occupations, but they don’t have any regulations or specific safety footwear.
“So we saw a great opportunity to dive into healthcare and see if there are other options to improve the experience of their footwear.”
On a 12-hour shift, a nurse walks roughly four to five miles – double the distance of the average Australian.
To create footwear that can prevent injuries before they occur, the researchers designed the sensors to identify different postures, variations in walking gait and weight lifted throughout a shift.
They also inform the wearer where they might experience high body pressures, identifying personal risk areas.
“It shows how active you were, but also whether you were active in a safe way and not lifting too much,” Page said.
“The information can guide people towards those healthier behaviours during work.”
During the concept design, the researchers noticed a high amount of variability in what people wore, ranging from sneakers to rubber clogs.
They asked healthcare workers what they thought were the essential features of their footwear.
“They were interested in materials that were easy to clean, effortless to take on and off, more comfortable and lighter weight,” Page said.
“So we wanted to create something that’s a boot, but with more of a sneaker-style midsole, so it’s quite lightweight.
“We also looked into new materials that made the shoes more manoeuvrable.”
The shoe has parts made of non-leather material and parts of microfibre material, so it has antibacterial properties and breathes well.
“We’ve made the elastic section on the boot a lot larger than your typical elastic – it’s an engineered net, so it’s got a variable kind of elasticity to it making it easier to take on and off,” Page said.
“We didn’t want laces because they were difficult to clean.”
Page said the technology could be improved to highlight other health indicators such as injury risk and fatigue.
Shortlisted for the Designers Australia Awards 2022, the team hopes the concept will inspire other footwear producers to improve shoes for healthcare workers.
They emphasised that the shoe is still a concept and unlikely to hit the Australian markets soon.
“We hope the concept will inform future footwear coming onto the market,” Page said.
“So, unfortunately, it’d be hard to put a timeframe to being able to buy something like this.”